For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
When the lost see this sign, likely they either laugh or scoff,
but to those of us who are being saved, it is the promise of
redemption and the very hope of eternal life. Only when
God begins to work on a man’s heart, does he begin to pay
any heed to the simple, yet life-changing message that
appears on this sign.
The world doesn’t value what God values:
1st Corinthians 1:21: “...God was well-please through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.”
1st Corinthians 1:27-29: “God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God.”
The Gospel is foolishness to the lost, but God has a way of breaking down people’s barriers and convicting them of their sins so that anyone can be saved. Fear and conviction is powerful. For instance, Acts 2:37 states: “Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brethren, what shall we do?’” According to v.36, these were the very people who crucified Jesus. While guilt can lead to repentance, guilt, in and of itself, is not repentance. Peter called them to act on their conscience’s conviction by yielding to believer’s baptism as a public testimony: “‘Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’” (Acts 2:38) God choose the foolish, meek, weak, base and despised things of the world in order to “shame” and “nullify” the wise and strong. By shaming and nullifying, they may be driven to humility and see the Gospel for what it truly is: salvation from their sins. Pride and repentance repel. Repentance involves humility, whereas pride leads to a dismissal of the Gospel. Essentially, God convicts people in order to break down their pride so that they might repent, believe and be saved.
One member of The Society of Evangelical Arminians: “A few years ago, I read a posting on a forum which had very eloquently explained the Gospel message, so much so, that I wished I had saved it because I felt that it would have resulted in a stronger faith. Lo and behold, at the end of the message, I remember pretty much verbatim what the poster said, ‘Of course, I don’t believe in it. I’m Jewish.’ I was shocked! This unbeliever explained the Gospel so much better than what I’ve heard from believers. It seems that he knew God, but didn’t want to acknowledge Him. It seems that his foolishness consisted in, (a) his refusal to value the wisdom of the Gospel above all else, and (b) to embrace the God who shows Himself as God. The unspiritual ‘do not understand’ the things of God. I don’t think that means that they can’t comprehend what the message is, or what it requires of them. Instead, it seems to me that although they can comprehend the message quite clearly, they don’t value what the message says, and consequently, do not follow up with the appropriate action.”
From the Calvinist perspective, fallen man is spiritually dead and completely unresponsive to the message of the Gospel, except unless if God should will to regenerate them, as none are regenerated except Calvinism’s elect:
Calvinist, Erwin Lutzer: “Thus the doctrine of total depravity leads directly to that of unconditional election--a dead man cannot respond to the gospel’s appeal.” (The Doctrines That Divide, p.181, emphasis mine)
This is the Calvinist explanation of why the Gospel is “foolishness” to the lost. To a Calvinist, man is totally depraved and therefore will never see the Gospel as anything other than foolishness, and therefore the only people who ever get saved, are the ones whom God irresistibly “corrects” their minds:
John Calvin: “Since the whole human race is blind and stubborn, those faults remain fixed in our nature until they are corrected by the grace of the Spirit, and that comes only from election. Two people may hear the same teaching together; yet one is willing to learn, and the other persists in his obstinacy. They do not differ in nature, but God illumines one and not the other. We are, indeed, made God’s children by faith--faith is for us the door and beginning of salvation; but there is something deeper with God. He does not begin to choose us after we believe, but by the gift of faith he seals the adoption that was hidden in our hearts and makes it manifest and sure. … Let us learn that God’s election is confirmed by faith in order that our minds may be turned to Christ as the pledge of election.” (Acts: Calvin, Crossway Classic Commentaries, p.229, emphasis mine)
The problem with the Calvinist presentation is that it assumes that God can’t, or perhaps can but won’t, bring a totally depraved, Gospel-basher, to the point of conviction where they can make a free choice, whether to repent and or not. Yes, man is totally depraved in the sense that his love for sin makes him blind to the truth, so that the Gospel is utter foolishness to him, but that does not eliminate the possibility that God can bring such a person to the point of fear and conviction, as per John 16:8, so that they are able, despite their total depravity, to repent, because of God’s enablement. If this is so, then the Calvinist argument washes away. The problem with Calvinism is that it focuses on what man can’t do, while ignoring what God can do.
Question: Why is it that to us who are being saved, we recognize the Gospel as being the power of God, whereas the lost see it as foolishness?
Answer: Pride and a hard heart. However, there are times when even those who are perishing get convicted by the power of the Gospel, through which the Holy Spirit operates. Acts 2:37 states: “Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brethren, what shall we do?’” According to v.36, these were the very people who crucified Jesus. While guilt can lead to repentance, guilt, in and of itself, is not repentance. That’s why today is the day of salvation. Today is the day to yield your heart to the Holy Spirit, or else you will have hardened your own heart, without fully realizing it.
Question: How can the lost believe, if to them, the Gospel is utter foolishness?
Answer: A better question would be whether or it is possible that a lost person can change his mind, under the duress of conviction by the Holy Spirit. (John 16:8) To the Calvinist, the answer is often, “absolutely not.” However, why did God choose the foolish, meek, weak, base and despised things of the world? The answer is given in verses 27 and 28, which is to “shame” and “nullify” the wise and strong of this world. By shaming and nullifying, they may be driven to humility and see the Gospel for what it truly is. God desires the salvation of the lost world (1st Timothy 2:3-4; 2nd Peter 3:9), but He also desires repentance and humility, and that’s precisely why He has chosen the base and despised things of this world for His Gospel. The point is that pride and repentance do not go hand-in-hand. Repentance involves humility, whereas pride leads to a dismissal of the Gospel. Basically, God is doing what He is doing in order to break people’s pride, so that they might repent, believe and be saved.
John Calvin: “How the preaching of the Cross is the power of God unto salvation, I bring out in my comments on Romans 1:16.” (Calvin’s Commentaries: The First Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians, p.35, emphasis mine)
John Calvin: “For because the Gospel is called the power of God unto salvation to all who believe, some have made this a pretext for obliterating the election of God. But it ought to have occurred to them to ask whence faith arises.” (Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, p.50, emphasis mine)
It “arises” from hearing the Gospel: “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:17) This is another blow to Calvinism. The Calvinist wants you to think that faith only comes from Irresistible Grace, but that’s not what Romans 10:17 says. Plain and simple, Calvinists deny the power of the Gospel, which Arminians point to as the biblical solution for the depravity of man. When Calvinists insist that the unregenerate are “dead” (Ephesians 2:1), remind them that the Gospel is alive. The “living and active” (Hebrews 4:12), supernatural “power” of the Gospel (Romans 1:16), is “spirit” and “life” (John 6:63) which produces “faith” in its hearers (Romans 10:17) such that “anyone” (Revelation 3:20) who hears the Gospel message preached is divinely enabled by its power to repent, believe and be saved, and that the only reason why anyone chooses not to, is because of the one thing that God warned not to do: “Harden not your heart.” (Psalm 95:8, KJV) And for those who do believe, God is “well-pleased” to save.” (1st Corinthians 1.21) Remind the Calvinists that that’s the decreed purpose of God: “to save those who believe” (1st Corinthians 1.21), and that without faith, it is “impossible to please Him.” (Hebrews 11:6)
V.18: “For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”
V.24: “But to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”
Question: What does it mean that “to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God”? (1st Corinthians 1:24)
Answer: “The called” are Christians, evident when comparing v.18 with v.24. Everyone is called to live in Christ, and when you answer, you receive the call to live for Christ, relating to the gifts of the Spirit for the edification of the Body of Christ. Jesus stated: “For many are called, but few are chosen.” (Matthew 22:14) The few that answer the call to live in Christ, become Christians, and who receive the call to live for Christ, which speaks of our purpose as a Christian. “The called” is simply a way of emphasizing the fact that, as Christians, we all have a gift from the Holy Spirit, and that we are all called into the ministry in one capacity or another.
To disbelievers who are perishing, the Gospel is the fearful aroma of death, while to Christians, the Gospel is the power and wisdom of God. Paul writes at 2nd Corinthians 2:15-16: “For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life. And who is adequate for these things?” To unbelievers, it is absurd that faith can move any mountain (Matthew 21:21), and mere foolishness, why you would love your enemies and pray for those who scornfully persecute you. But to “saved” and “called,” meaning Christians, it is the very power and wisdom of God at work.
John Calvin: “And is there anything more contemptible than a Cross? Therefore he who would be truly wise in the things of God must necessarily stoop to the humility of the Cross.” (Calvin’s Commentaries: The First Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians, pp.32-33, emphasis mine)
1st Corinthians 1:26-29: “For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God.”
When Paul said, “consider your calling,” he wanted them to understand that in the world’s eyes, they were not the cream of the crop, but rather the bottom of the barrel. God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the world in humility and repentance. God did a similar thing to the Jews: “But by their transgression [the Jews] salvation has come to the Gentiles, to make them jealous. Now if their transgression is riches for the world and their failure is riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their fulfillment be! But I am speaking to you who are Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle of Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, if somehow I might move to jealousy my fellow countrymen and save some of them.” (Romans 11:11-14) That is precisely why the Gospel was made to be foolishness to the pride-filled lost, and why God chose the foolish, meek and weak to preach it: to move them to humility, brokenness and repentance that God may save them. God uses the base and despised things of the world for that very purpose.